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Wholeheartedness: connection through courage, vulnerability & authenticity

I've watched this video on Wholeheartedness by Dr. Brené Brown from TEDxHouston (last June) several times since I first saw it tweeted by John Hagel (@jhagel) yesterday morning. It is one of the most inspiring talks I've seen, making all kinds of connections about connection and disconnection and a range of other core issues I perpetutally struggle with. I'll embed the 20 minute video below, and highly recommend watching the original source, but will also share a few notes I've jotted down from her talk below.

After talking about how she resisted the insights she'd gleaned from six years of social work research involving thousands of personal stories and hundreds of in-depth interviews - because the insights were in direct opposition to the holy grail of science: control & prediction - Dr. Brown eventually became willing to lean into the discomfort of the work, and acknowledge that

vulnerability is the key to joy, creativity, belonging and love

She encountered a glaring contradiction among many of the stories:

Connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. ... [and yet] The one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we're not worthy of connection.

She elaborates on the feeling of shame (reminding me of the 12-step slogan "we're only as sick as our secrets"):

Is there something about me, that if other people know it or see it, that I won't be worthy of connection? It's universal, we all have it ... no one wants to talk about it, and the more you don't talk about it the more you have it.

Partitioning the population into In two types of people - those who have a strong sense of worthiness and those who do not - she found an almost tautological distinction:

The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they're worthy of love and belonging.

The people who have a strong sense of love and belonging exhibit the following characteristics:

  • courage: telling the story of who you are with your whole heart
  • compassion: being kind to themselves first and then to others
  • authentic: willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were
  • vulnerable: willing to take actions and invest themselves in relationships that may or may not work out

Those who do not believe themselves worthy of belonging also share some common characteristics:

  • we numb: "we are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history" ... but unfortunately, we cannot selectively numb only the negative emotions (e.g., shame)
  • we make everything uncertain certain: witness the growing fundamentalism we see in religion and politics ("I'm right, you're wrong, shut up")
  • we perfect: unwilling to embrace our own imperfections or those in others
  • we pretend that we do not have an effect on people

She finishes off with a prescription for wholeheartedness:

  • let ourselves be seen (deeply seen, vulnerably seen)
  • love with our whole hearts (even though there's no guarantee)
  • practice gratitude, lean into joy (vs. catastrophizing)
  • believe that I am enough

Several of these insights resonated with wisdom shared by other inspiring teachers:

  • Rumi: there's courage involved if you want to become the truth
  • David Whyte: the antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness
  • Oriah Mountain Dreamer: our job as human beings is to bring all of who we are to every moment

This last resonance, in particular, offers a measure of discomfort, as I reflect on having written about Oriah and Buber, I and Thou: Bringing All of Who I Am to Blogging several years ago, and realizing that I have not always succeeded in that goal. This was made all the more poignant earlier today, when I encountered a blog post by Alyssa Royse, in which she models uncommon courage, vulnerability and authenticity in describing her experience of - and response to - a pair of eerily similar recent and not-so-recent traumatic incidents. Perhaps my own pair of encounters with wholeheartedness shared by these women during the past two days will prompt me to practice greater vulnerability and authenticity.

Dr. Brown has written several books, and as a researcher interested in psychology and sociology - and someone who generally falls into the "unworthy of love and belonging" camp (but wants to switch sides) - I plan to delve more deeply into her research and findings.

For now, however, I'll wholeheartedly conclude with an expression of gratitude at having been exposed to this work, and while I am not ready to assert that I am enough, I am willing to write that I have written enough ... for now.

image from
[Update: I've since read - and blogged about - Brene Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection: Fitting in vs. Belonging, The Costs and Benefits of Conformity. Similarly inspiring & highly recommended.]

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